Sometimes I see it as a straight line
drawn with a pencil and a ruler
transecting the circle of the world
or as a finger piercing
a smoke ring, casual, inquisitive
but then the sun will come out
or the phone will ring
and I will cease to wonder
if it is one thing,
a large ball of air and memory,
or many things,
a string of small farming towns,
a dark road winding through them.
Let us say it is a field
I have been hoeing every day,
hoeing and singing,
then going to sleep in one of its furrows,
or now that it is more than half over,
a partially open door,
rain dripping from eaves.
Like yours, it could be anything,
a nest with one egg,
a hallway that leads to a thousand rooms ---
whatever happens to float into view
when I close my eyes
or look out a window
for more than a few minutes,
so that some days I think
it must be everything and nothing at once.
But this morning, sitting up in bed,
wearing my black sweater and my glasses,
the curtains drawn and the windows up,
I am a lake, my poem is an empty boat,
and my life is the breeze that blows
through the whole scene
stirring everything it touches ---
the surface of the water, the limp sail,
even the heavy, leafy trees along the shore.
by Billy Collins
I love this poem because it addresses a grand theme through the minutiae of our lives and the world around us. On its surface, it seems so simple, but the images build up into an accretion of a life well-lived and well-considered.
Socrates, the Greek philosopher who lived in Athens from 469 BC - 399 BC is quoted in Plato's Dialogues, Apology as saying "The unexamined life is not worth living."
Perhaps the life unexamined leads to people brutally and senselessly killing innocent people or perhaps it leads to polluting the planet for personal greed and acquisition, but I will leave that for others to debate.
We are only here for a short time and so I think it behoves us to lead the best life we can, loving others as much as we can, nurturing our children to be creative, productive and decent citizens of this planet and looking for beauty and wonder in this amazing natural world we inhabit.
Billy Collins achieves what I often aspire to do as a poet. He elevates the seemingly mundane and everyday into things of great beauty and wisdom. Billy Collins has been a Poet Laureate of the United States of America and has sometimes been referred to as "a poet of the vernacular".
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